The Adversarial Mindset vs. Impartiality and Objectivity:
Oxymoron? Paradox? Catch 22? A Balance to be Found?
A while ago I made an entry comparing the definitions of patriotism and nationalism, noting that nationalism is anathema to the concepts of freedom and tolerance. A psychological prerequisite to the cultural phenomena of nationalism is an adversarial mindset. Without a predisposition to render all issues into a linear, two-dimensional context - and further, mistakenly assume that the two perspectives, the two perceived realities, being at opposite ends of the continuum, must be incompatible - nationalism, and other manifestations of a narrow, confrontational mindset, would be virtually impossible.
This urge to polarize everything, to break things down into simple black and white, is deeply ingrained - it's a fundamental instinct that enables us to survive in a world filled with conflicts of all sorts. Competition with other species - and, as homo sapiens evolved and developed social structures, between tribes and nations - for land, food, and other resources has been a fact of life since the pre-dawn of our history. There has always been an "I and you," and an "us and them" in our reality, from the individual level up through the family, tribe, neighborhood, city, county, state, national, political, religious, ethnic, and other social and cultural distinctions that define and often separate us from each other.
Where we draw the line between "us" and "them" depends entirely on the nature and context of the issue - and sometimes it's not up to us, it's drawn by circumstances beyond our control. And it's rarely a static line, nor a clear one, it expands and contracts according to situations, and our objectivity or subjectivity, blurring and sharpening as we learn more, constantly causing us to redefine our perceptions of reality according to the latest context and data. This need to define and divine our boundaries and allegiances, to draw and perceive the lines tween "us" and "them," is a survival mechanism, without which we wouldn't be able to make critical decisions.
It is not enough, however, to simply draw a line blindly wherever it may seem to suit us at the moment; nor is it safe to mistake someone else's imaginary line for a real one and base our decisions on it - we must separate ourselves from our fellow man with great care, and accept those separations imposed upon us by others with great reluctance and skepticism. The importance of doing so cannot be overstated. To fail in this endeavor to always strive for harmony over discord, to expand the boundaries of the inclusive circle of "us," will tip the delicate balance and spill out all our hopes for peace in the world. To fail to perceive a genuine threat from a legitimate "them" brings disaster - but to create a division where none really exists is equally foolhardy, and will also result in dire consequences. This attempt to find and maintain a balanced and realistic perspective on which to base our decisions is an endless dance.
There are a few tools we'll need to achieve this goal, though:
1. brutal honesty, both with ourselves and with each other;
2. a genuine recognition of our essential human commonality, and an understanding that we are collectively entrusted with the care and stewardship of the planet and all that is upon it, and that if we blow it we're screwed;
3. the genuine deep-seated respect for each other that must arise from recognizing our essential oneness, and our essential individual autonomy and rights;
4. a deep and abiding faith that, just as none of us are perfect, each of us making wrong and hurtful choices based on ignorance or selfishness from time to time, each also frequently acts with great compassion and goodness;
5. ...and time to adjust to this new reality, to get over the shock of paradigm shift. This might be the most difficult hurdle of all, to overcome the inertia of a billion systems seemingly hell-bent on self-destruction.
But the hard part is, this is a world-game that won't work right unless everybody plays... and by the same basic rules, of honesty, compassion and respect for our many differences. So how do we get from where we are now to that place?
I don't know the answer to that. I imagine it will take some sort of universal and transforming set of circumstances, a global epiphany, if you will, that catalyzes our collective consciousness (and conscience) and causes the seeds of reason to take root and grow. But I do know that in the meantime we must continue to have faith in the essential goodness of men - and, while discerning and guarding against erroneous information, lies, and fraud, we must sow seeds of peace and understanding, and support others who are also driven by the same desire for harmony.
I also know that those who spend their time sowing seeds of suspicion and fear, whose efforts serve to divide and alienate us from our brothers and sisters, are not themselves our enemy - they are merely wandering in their own darkness, blind to the opportunities that open before them and pass unnoticed. They are slaves to the real enemy: Ignorance. This is the enemy we must do battle with. We must find and root out the ignorance and resulting fear that lives within ourselves and within each other - and at the same time find, recognize and nurture the goodness that also lives within each of us.
Unfortunately, this is a seemingly endless process of spiritual growth and evolution, not something that can be rushed through, any more than one can expect adult behavior from a ten-year-old, or a house to be built in an hour. Lessons must be thoroughly learned, some several times over, foundations must be laid and built upon, before we finally "get it." Shortcuts result in poor workmanship and a shoddy product, and cost much more than they're worth in the time (we only imagine) we save.
Nonetheless, this seemingly monumental and impossible task, of educating ourselves and each other about the consequences of self-righteousness and disrespect for others, and the benefits of practicing and promoting mutual tolerance, understanding and respect, is one that demands our time and energy. Some would have you believe this dedication to open-mindedness is something they like to call "moral relativism," an affliction that renders one incapable of determining what one thinks might be right from what one thinks might be wrong. That's pure-dee bullcrap. Real moral relativism is a long way down the road from open-mindedness - let's use a little common sense here.
Ironically enough, the only thing we shouldn't be open-minded about is being narrow-minded... there's no room for it in any workable plan to help bring peace and prosperity to the planet. Self-righteous people who talk a lot but don't listen much make me extremely nervous. I instinctively distrust them, as they're entirely too sure of their own assumptions, too committed to their own little paradigms, to grow and evolve. They exist in a state of waking death, like zombie spiders, luring others into their petrified doctrinal webs of ignorance, fear and denial.
It's going to be a long, hard road. Perhaps together we can make a difference. Perhaps not, perhaps we are doomed like lemmings to run off the edge of the cliff, trapped in our adversarial world, to our own demise - but at least we will have tried. And perhaps there is enough goodwill and common sense left in honorable men to see us through to better times. Perhaps we can make a small but significant difference in the political landscape, through our support of politicians who are honest and competent, and share the vision of a government that is truly of, by and for The People. Perhaps we can help find the balance between the realistic skepticism required for self-preservation and the optimistic hope of open-mindedness, objectivity and cooperation required... also for our self-preservation. Let's wish ourselves good fortune and do what we can.